“I’m the customer…do what I say.” “That’s my money – I want you to do this!” “The customer is always right!” Have you heard this before? Is the customer always right? My answer is no. In fact, you may be saying – from your own project experiences – is the customer ever right?

Now, for all you customers out there – past, present and future – I mean no harm or disrespect. It’s just that there are a few of you out there who prefer to micro manage the delivery project manager and team too much and you forget why you hired them in the first place. Ok?

When the customer is paying for the project engagement – remember that it’s always their money at stake – they may feel like they have all the say. At the very least we must be understanding of their need for control and oversight and be sympathetic for their needs for their opinions and desires to be made known and to be heard and incorporated. We must be diplomatic…no matter how wrong or misguided their wishes and desires for the project may be. Diplomatic.

Usually the customer either comes in with a set of detailed requirements or you must extract those requirements from them. Either way, they definitely come with a problem that has necessitated the project you are about to embark on with them. But are they right? Is what they are asking for the real need – and is what they may be suggesting the right solution? And should you point out that they aren’t if you’re concerned they’re going down the wrong path? The answer is always yes. Let’s discuss why that is the case…

The customer may only be focusing on a symptom. Always ask questions. It makes you look smarter anyway, but it may save the project….seriously. When the customer comes to you with the need, no matter how certain they may be of that need, it is still your job to ask questions. Discuss the need with the project sponsor. Meet with the end users to identify what they feel the issue or need is. The real need may be deeper – the customer may only be coming to you with a symptom of the real problem. If you don’t tell the customer they are wrong and solve their real need, you may be only putting a band-aid on the real problem and when that becomes evident, you’ll have a very frustrated and dissatisfied customer on your hands.

The customer may blinded by the wrong technology. The customer may want what they just read about in the latest trade journal, but that doesn’t mean they should have it. Many times someone at the customer organization – possibly even the project sponsor – comes forward with a project and they are certain that a particular ‘latest technology’ is the perfect solution for them. This is usually the result of something they’ve been told or have read about. Indeed, that technology may truly be what is needed, but it is still the delivery team’s responsibility to dive into the detailed requirements for the project and verify that the technology the customer is requesting is really the best way to solve the problem. Often times when the customer has pre-selected the technology for the solution, it is not the best technology to use and a red flag should be raised.

The customer may be unnecessarily gold-plating their own project. On the delivery side, we always want to avoid ‘gold-platting’ the solution. When we gold-plate, we deliver add-ons that aren’t part of the requirements and they end up costing us on the delivery side and putting the project budget in danger.

What we’re talking about here, though, is the other side of the coin. The customer can be asking for add-on services or functionality as part of the solution that they don’t really need. Essentially gold-plating their own project. If we see this – then it is our duty on the delivery side to identify those situations, alert the customer and work to keep the customer costs as low as possible.

Summary

What the delivery team needs to keep in mind – and that starts with the project manager – is that even though it’s the customer’s project…it’s really their delivery. Their end solution. Once you signed on to be the project manager it became your responsibility to do your best to provide a successful end solution. And if you know that the customer’s preference is not going to get you there, then you must disagree and point out that their way is not going to be the best way. If they can never accept that then you have to make a decision to move forward with what they want or bail…but hopefully it won’t come to that. Plan, document, present – show them what needs to be done and they will likely end up following your direction happily…especially if you can show them how it will end in success and probably cost savings rather than failure.

Choosing the right tool is crucial for the success of your project. Telerik TeamPulse agile project management software allows you to expressively define and effectively manage requirements. The product enables you to easily capture ‘user stories’ (high-level informal statements of requirements), associate them to personas (end-user profiles), create relationships between stories and much more.


Brad Egeland
About the Author

Brad Egeland

A Business Solution Designer and IT/PM consultant and author with over 25 years of software development, management, and project management experience leading initiatives in Manufacturing, Government Contracting, Gaming and Hospitality, Retail Operations, Aviation and Airline, Pharmaceutical, Start-ups, Healthcare, Higher Education, Non-profit, High-Tech, Engineering and general IT. Brad is married, a father of 9, and living in sunny Las Vegas, NV.

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